1THE Mahrattas were originally of the Sudra caste, which is the fourth and lowest of the four great divisions of Hindoos, according to their sacred books ; but, in spite of the numerous prohibitions against mingling with them, the Sudras have intermarried with the three higher castes very largely. The Mahrattas especially claim to have a large admixture of pure Brahmin blood in their composition, as well as of the two intermediate castes, and pride themselves accordingly. They occupy a tract of country on the western coast of India, south of the Nerbudda river. Their language is very similar to the Hindee. Their early history is involved in obscurity, but the modern city of Daulatabad has been identified as the site of a great commercial city of theirs, called Tagara, which was well known to the Romans more than two thousand years ago. They figure in history early in the sixteenth century, when the Mahomedans began to ravage the Deccan. They were the allies of Malik Ambar, a ruler of Abyssinian extraction, who for many years upheld the Ahmadnugger dynasty against the powerful Mogul kings Akbar and Jahangeer, and it was not till Shah Jahan bought over the principal Mahratta chiefs that he was defeated.
2The defection of the Mahrattas at this time does not speak well for their sense of honor or their gratitude, as it was in the service of Malik Ambar that Shahjee, the father of the great Mahratta general, Sivajee, founded his fortunes.
3 The origin of this noted family is romantic. Mallojee, a Mahratta captain of horse, was employed by the king of Ahmadnugger about the close of the sixteenth century. His wife, who was childless, prayed for a son at the shrine of a Mahomedan saint, Shah Seffer by name. A son was afterward born to her, to whom she gave the name of Shahjee, in token of her gratitude to the saint. The name is a curious mingling of Persian and Hindee, Shah meaning "king," and jee being the Hindee term for "respect." Mallojee sought a wife for his son from a family of high standing, the head of which was called Jadoo Rao ; but he refused to allow a daughter of his to marry into so plebeian a family. But soon after, in some fortunate raid, Mallojee obtained a large treasure, with which he bought some very large estates, including several cities, from the king of Ahmadnugger. Jadoo Rao became gracious at once, and the wedding ceremonies took place with great rejoicings and display. It is said that even the king of Ahmadnugger shed the light of his royal presence among the guests. Sivajee, the son of the couple so auspiciously married, was born in 1627, and was reared with great care by a Hindoo tutor of integrity and excellent abilities. But the lad, although expert in military knowledge and exercises, did not take kindly to book learning, and was never able to write or read.
4After his father's death he gathered a small army and began a course of lawless marauding and plunder. In 1657, when Aurungzebe was campaigning in the Deccan, Sivajee professed himself a servant of the Mogul dynasty ; but when Aurungzebe returned to Agra he began to plunder the Mogul territories in the Deccan, and even enlisted Mahomedans, whom Aurungzebe had dismissed, under his banner.
5When Aurungzebe became king, Sivajee made his peace with him by affecting submission, but continued to loot indiscriminately, until a Mahomedan general, named Afzal Khan, was sent from Beejapore against him. Afzal Khan had great contempt for his adversary's prowess, and, when Sivajee proffered submission if he might only be pardoned, granted him an interview, when Sivajee was permitted to salute the Mahomedan officer, and took advantage of the opportunity thus afforded to assassinate him.
6The Mahratta army then seized upon the Mahomedan troops and slaughtered them, and continued their predatory warfare up to the very gates of Beejapore. A fierce campaign ensued, and continued till Aurungzebe marched down into the Deccan with an immense army and compelled Sivajee to sue for peace. He was allowed to enter the Mogul service as a tributary, but managed to put an insidious claim in the agreement called " Chaut," the meaning of which is a fourth of the revenue, which was the occasion of great emolument to the Mahrattas, but of great trouble to the country.
7Sivajee continued his intrigues and banditti warfare until 1674, when he seized upon a large territory and caused himself to be proclaimed king. He was weighed against gold and the money given to Brahmins, who were not at all pleased to find that he only weighed one hundred and forty pounds. After this his successes almost exceed belief, but they were cut short in 1680 by his death. His son, Sumbajee, reigned nine years, and was succeeded by his infant son, Sahoo. This lad was taken prisoner by the Moguls and retained by them seventeen years. They treated him with great kindness and allowed him to marry two wives, the daughters of some Mahratta nobles who were in the Mogul service. Perhaps they thought to tame the wild Mahratta instinct in the lad by kindness. Tara Bale, the widow of the regent who was to rule the Mahratta nation until Sahoo should return to his own, determined to retain the throne for her own son, and when the Moguls placed Sahoo in authority there ensued a division among the Mahrattas.
8Sahoo was, however, the recognized king, but he was almost wholly indebted to his prime minister or "peshwa," Bajee Rao, for the success that followed his plans, for he had lost much of the national energy during his quiet life among the Moguls.
9Bajee Rao managed every thing, and finally came in conflict with the general of the army, who thought he was taking the lion's share of the plunder. He marched to the city of Satara, where Bajee Rao was located, and attacked him ; but a small force which the peshwa sent out against him overpowered him, and he was slain. Bajee Rao seemed to cherish no animosity, but bestowed the office upon the deceased general's son, an infant, and appointed a regent during his minority.
10About this time the two great families of Holkar and Sindia were founded. Mulhar Rao Holkar was a herdsman, but entered the army and distinguished himself by such daring deeds that the peshwa, Bajee Rao, promoted him to the command of an expedition for levying contributions upon the province of Malwa. Sindia was allied to the Rajpoots, but was of the former caste. He entered the service of the peshwa, and was also promoted to posts of trust and emolument. Both of these men rose to great distinction as commanders in the Mahratta army.
11 Mulhar Rao Holkar, in some way not made plain in history, but probably as a reward for distinguished services, became ruler of several fine provinces, whose capital was Indore. His son and heir married Ahuliya Baie, a lady of the family of Sindia, but probably not of the one just mentioned. He died a few years after their marriage, leaving her with two children, a son named Mallee Rao, and a daughter named Mutcha Baie.
12Upon the death of Mulhar Rao Holkar the succession devolved upon Mallee Rao, but he unfortunately soon developed symptoms of insanity, and died after nine months of suffering. According to Mahratta custom, Ahuliya Baie became at this juncture the only lawful ruler of the country, as her daughter had married into another family, and thereby lost her birthright.
13The prime minister of the Holkar Government suggested that the widowed Ranee should adopt an heir, supposing, doubtless, that she would not be capable of governing her rude and rather turbulent people ; but she declined to act upon his suggestion, and assured him that she intended to occupy the position that, by right of Hindoo law and custom, was now hers. Her officers and army stood by her in this resolve, and the baffled minister tried to instigate outsiders against her, Madhoo Rao was the peshwa of the Mahratta Government at this time, and his uncle, the notorious Ragoba, held a command in the army. The Holkar minister offered this chief a large bribe if he would come with his army and assist him to dethrone Ahuliya Baie. He consented, and began to make preparations for the campaign ; but the courageous Ranee hearing of his design, began to make such vigorous preparations for war that he began to waver in his determination. She sent him a message, to the effect that he would only disgrace himself by making war upon a woman, and trying to deprive her of her rights, and advised him to desist. She avowed her firm resolve to lead her army in person, and caused the howdah for her elephant to be fitted up with bows and arrows. These demonstrations were not without effect. Ragoba sought further aid from the Mahratta chiefs, but Sindia and others refused to aid him in making war upon a brave and high-minded woman, and the peshwa at length ordered his uncle to refrain from intermeddling in the affairs of the Holkar family. This settled the matter at once, and Ahuliya Baie, then about thirty years of age, entered upon her duties as the ruler of the Holkar possessions.
14 The position was an honorable and highly responsible one, and she seems to have so understood it. She was a firm believer in the Hindoo religion, and at this important juncture she consulted with the priests upon all matters pertaining to the State, believing them to be the only safe guides in both temporal and spiritual things.
15A large amount of money was in the treasury when she came into possession, and her first act of sovereignty was to consecrate this treasure to religious charities. The ceremony consisted in putting a few leaves of the sacred toolsee plant in water, which was afterward sprinkled over the royal treasury, a Brahmin meanwhile uttering the words of consecration. She then began to consider the best plan of perpetuating the dynasty. She was prevented from marrying again by Hindoo law, and her daughter was severed from the succession. At length she selected Tokajee Holkar, an officer of good repute, although not a member of her husband's family, to act as commander-in-chief of the army, probably intending him to succeed her in the Government. Her keen discrimination of character was not at fault in this choice.
16Tokajee Holkar became her most faithful and wise viceroy in the distant territories of her possessions, and never gave her reason to repent her choice. According to eastern usage, he always spoke of the Ranee Ahuliya Baie as his mother, and she always spoke of him as the son of Mulhar Rao Hulkar, thus openly avowing his heirship to the succession. With great magnanimity she forgave the prime minister his opposition to her cause, and upon receiving assurances of his fidelity in the future re-instated him in his office, and, so far as we can judge, he was "faithful to his salt" ever afterward.
17The managers of the different posts in and around Indore were mostly Brahmins, and it appears from history that they must have discharged their duties with singular fidelity. The policy of Ahuliya Baie was that of kindness and conciliation. Although so strict a devotee of the Hindoo religion, she was interested in the welfare of all her subjects, even in the wild hill tribes of Goands and Bheels, who were simply robbers and marauders.
18By wise and conciliatory, though strict, measures she succeeded in bringing them into a much higher state of civilization. But it was among the Mahratta people proper that the enlightened policy of this Hindoo queen produced the most excellent results. Instead of enormous taxes to support an expensive administration, as is generally the case among Hindoostanee rulers, she strove, by moderate assessment and wise protective legislation, to encourage her people in the peaceful arts. It is usual for native rulers to watch narrowly, through their agents, the success of merchants and craftsmen, and, if they have any extra good fortune, to demand at once a large proportion of their gains for the royal treasury. It was formerly the custom, and still is in the principalities under native rule, for men who are in reality merchant princes to dress shabbily and to carefully conceal their true income ; but in the dominions of Ahuliya Baie men could rise to affluence by honest labor or trade, and be assured that their queen was well pleased to see their prosperity, and would protect them and their possessions. All turbulent and mischievous persons were dealt with in a way to keep that class in awe, and to re-assure the law abiding portion of the population. Indeed, so marked is the difference between the historical account of the reign of Ahuliya Baie and those of contemporary Hindoo princes, that it is like suddenly arriving, through rough seas and driving storms, in a lovely, quiet haven in some peaceful island.
19During her reign of thirty years' duration the internal peace of the country was not once broken, and only once was there trouble from without. The Rana of Oodipore once invaded her territories, but she brought such a well-disciplined army against him that he was soon obliged to retrace his steps. Her exemption from foreign invasion seems almost miraculous, for in those days kings seemed to be always "going forth to battle."
20Probably the great reason why her administration was so uniformly successful in dealing with all classes of people so satisfactorily, was that she avoided change of State officers as much as possible. She therefore maintained a uniform method of carrying out her measures. This is particularly pleasing to the native mind. They dislike extremely any change of land tenure and revenue laws, or in the methods used to enforce them, as they expect they will in some way work to their disadvantage.
21There is something wonderfully beautiful in the character of this heathen queen. Living as she did among a people wholly devoid of the light of Christianity, and entirely ignorant as she was of both the law and the Gospel, she seems to have embodied in her daily life their principles, doing "by nature the things contained in the law."
22The historian says of her that she "used to rise early, about an hour before daybreak, to say her prayers and perform the customary ceremonies. She then heard the sacred volumes of her faith read for a fixed period, distributed alms, and gave food in person to a number of Brahmins, Her own food was then brought, which consisted simply of vegetables ; for, although meat was not prohibited to her tribe, she had foresworn all animal food. Retiring after breakfast for a little repose, she would rise about two o'clock, dress herself, and proceed to the durbar, or court, where she remained till six in the evening hearing complaints in person. Two or three hours were then taken for refreshment and worship, when she again held court for two hours, retiring to rest about eleven o'clock."
23Not a life of ease and luxury was this, but a conscientious performance of the duties of her position. She is said to have declared that she knew she must answer to God for every exercise of power. Happy would it be for the nations of the earth did all rulers remember this great fact and act accordingly!
24 Several forts and public works were constructed during her reign, one of the most noted of which was a road over the Vindhya Mountains, a herculean undertaking accomplished at great expense. But the greatest work of her reign was the building of the present city of Indore. The old city was merely a large, irregular village, but the new one, although not pretentious, was worthy of its name.
25Although relying greatly upon the counsels of the Brahmins, Ahuliya Baie retained her independence of judgment and supremacy in State politics. There were envoys from most of the other Indian courts at Indore, who all agreed in ascribing the utmost independence of action to her. Still it is evident that the Brahmins enjoyed a golden age during her reign. They were her deputies in all the chief cities of India, and were the almoners of her bounty to the poor and diseased, to pilgrims and travelers. Wells and rest-houses were built on the main lines of travel throughout her territories, and at Jagahnath, Gya, Benares, Kedarnath, and other places, she erected houses for pilgrims and priests, and sent sums annually for their maintenance. The temple of Biseswara, at Benares, and of Mahadeo, at Gya, were built by her.
26Ahuliya Baie was not beautiful in person, although of agreeable presence and pleasing demeanor. She was of medium height and slight figure, and her complexion was rather dark. It is said that the wife of Ragoba once sent a female attendant to the Court of Ahuliya Baie as a sort of spy, merely to gratify her curiosity as to the personal appearance of so celebrated a woman. The report brought was, " that the Ranee has not beautiful features, but a heavenly light is on her countenance."
27But she was endowed with what is of far greater value than beauty, fine perceptive faculties, good sense, and a high moral nature. She could read, and was well versed in the Punanas. These sacred books are of much later compilation than the Vedas, the oldest being about one thousand years old, and the latest about four hundred and fifty.
28She paid strict regard to Hindoo usage in the matter of dress, as in all else, and never wore the rich attire of royalty ; but dressed, according to the rules laid down for widows, in pure white, and discarded all jewelry except a small gold necklace. In the daily routine of her onerous duties, only broken by the stated religious festivals of her faith, the life of Ahuliya Baie glided along.
29Her people learned to trust and love her as their benefactress, and both high and low would have esteemed it a sacrilege to do her wrong. The neighboring princes, too, viewed her course with admiration, and treated her with the same respect they did the peshwa of the Mahratta nation.
30She was strangely free from vanity, which is usually supposed to be inseparable from the feminine character. One of the Brahmins wrote a book in her praise, in which her virtues were extolled to the skies, and presented it to her. She heard it read, and remarked when it was finished, "I am a weak, sinful woman, and undeserving of such fine encomiums." She then ordered it to be thrown into the river close by, and took no notice of the author. But the unhallowed teachings of the Hindoo religion brought deep affliction upon this interesting queen at last. Her daughter's husband died, and the daughter, Mutchta Baie, declared her intention of being burned with his body.
31 Ahuliya Baie, now an aged woman, entreated her daughter not to leave her without kin upon the earth, but to live for her sake. The poor misguided woman was, however, resolved to perform the dreadful rite, in the vain hope of winning eternal happiness by this one great, meritorious act. In reply to her mother's entreaties, she said : "You are aged, my mother, and a few years will end your pious life ; my only child and husband are gone, and when you follow, life will be insupportable to me, but the opportunity of ending it with honor will then have passed."
32The unhappy Ranee could not dissuade her daughter from her resolution, and at last desisted from the attempt, and reluctantly consented that her wish should be carried out. She even so far prevailed over the natural anguish and dread a mother could but feel at such a time as to join in the procession, and be present near the funeral pyre during the dreadful ceremony.
33Two Brahmins supported her, and endeavored to keep up her semblance of calmness and resignation. The widow mounted the fatal pile, and, having distributed her clothing and jewels to her nearest relatives, according to the custom of the Deccan, sat down on the pile, and took the head of her deceased husband in her lap. With her own hand she then applied a torch to the pile, and the dry wood crackled, and great tongues of flame darted up all around her. The priests and the multitude began to shout and howl, that her shrieks of agony might not be heard. The self-possession of the poor mother gave way at the fearful sight, and, with loud cries, she tried to rush forward and snatch her daughter from the blazing pile ; but her two attendant Brahmins quickly seized her arms, and detained her in her place. The pile, with its human freight, was soon reduced to a small heap of ashes, and the deed of self-immolation was consummated.
34The afflicted mother, with the calmness of despair, bathed, with the other spectators, in the river near which the unholy deed was perpetrated, and then withdrew to the royal palace, probably the most sorrowful woman in all her dominions. She remained for several days bowed with grief, and unable to converse, but she then rallied, and tried to console herself in building a monument to the memory of her daughter.
35It must sadden the hearts of our readers to contemplate this noble, sincere woman, with her heart full of benevolent intent, and her hands of kindly deeds, going down into the valley of the shadow of death with no Divine radiance to cheer her way. Poor Ahuliya Baie ! Although the queen of a million of people, she was poorer than the humblest Christian woman of today who can sing in the assurance of faith,
"I shall find down the valley no alarms,
For my Saviour's blessed smile I can see ;
He will bear me in his loving, mighty arms ;
There's a light in the valley for me."
And yet she may stand far higher in the great day to which creation hastens, than many foolish ones in Christian lands who refuse to accept the proffered love of God through Christ Jesus.
36Ahuliya Baie died in 1795, at the age of sixty, leaving a name for piety and wise legislation which any ruler might envy, and to this day any usage or point of law that can be upheld by reference to her practice is unquestionably right in the estimation of native courts. She was long mourned by her subjects, and her reign is always spoken of in that region as the "flourishing period."
37The Brahmins placed a statue of Ahuliya Baie by the stone figures of Rama and Seeta, his wife, and she, too, is considered one of the "avatars," or incarnations of the deity.
38 Tokajee Holkar succeeded her, but died two years later. His sons quarreled, and fought for the pre-eminence ; and a predatory warfare was kept up for twenty years, when the State submitted to British authority.